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For 105 days, COVID-19's death toll in Florida counties went missing

Ian Hodgson, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

For 105 days this summer, while COVID-19 deaths soared across the state, Floridians had no idea how many of their neighbors were dying.

The Florida Department of Health knows how many people are dying in each county, but stopped telling the public on June 4. That’s when state officials stopped releasing daily pandemic data, switched to weekly reports and started withholding data once available to the public.

Instead of including county deaths in its weekly reports, the state directed the public to find that information via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the CDC relied on Florida’s online portal of COVID-19 data — which the state also took down in June. The CDC’s tally of deaths for Florida went blank.

The number of people dying in each Florida county went missing from June 4 through Sept. 17. Miscommunication has plagued the relationship between the state and federal agency since the start of the pandemic.

Now that data is available, and it shows how many people died in Tampa Bay as the delta variant tore through the state:

 

A total of 4,437 residents in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee, Polk, Hernando and Citrus counties died over four months. That’s an average of 36 Tampa Bay residents dying each day from COVID-related complications from June 5 to Oct. 7, according to the latest data.

The data reveals how deadly the latest COVID-19 wave has been in two of the region’s smallest, most rural counties: Citrus and Hernando rank third and fourth in deaths per 100,000 residents since June 5.

It’s another episode that illustrates how governments continue to hinder the public’s understanding of the virus and its toll.

“The issues Florida has had with data displayed by CDC has caused great confusion and allowed misinformation to perpetuate in our state,” Florida Department of Health spokesperson Weesam Khoury wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

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